Focus on Sports
Skipjacks prepare for stretch run

Monday, April 24, 2006

WYE MILLS – An April weekend off is a rare thing for a college baseball team. The Skipjacks earned that rare commodity thanks to this past weekend´s rains – but they´ll spend the rest of the season making up for it.

"It´s going to be interesting," said Chesapeake College head baseball coach Frank Szymanski. "We´ve got a lot of baseball left and not a lot of time to get these games played.

"We´re going to have to play well because most of our games are against good teams, but I think that´s going to be fun," added Szymanski, whose team has won two straight games to improve its record to 24-9. "It´s going to be a huge challenge, but it´s what we worked for all winter. I´m sure our boys are going to look forward to it."

The Skipjacks, who have to reschedule cancelled doubleheaders against Anne Arundel Community College and Garrett College, play a 3 p.m. single game Tuesday at Prince George´s Community College. They then play another single game Thursday at 3 p.m. at CCBC-Dundalk and have a noon doubleheader Saturday at Frederick Community College.

The Skipjacks are currently fifth in NJCAA Region XX Division II behind Allegany, Cecil, CCBC-Dundalk and Frederick, so this week´s games are critical.

"We´re on the road all week, with four straight games against Division II competition," noted Szymanski, whose team is 64-27 since the start of the 2005 season. "So we´re going to find out if we´re ready or not."

The Skipjacks – the reigning Region XX Division II champions – are still hoping for a No.3 or No. 4 tournament seed, which would put a first-round sub-regional at Chesapeake to kick off the postseason. Szymanski believes his team is ready for the stretch run, despite going only 7-6 over its last 13 games.

"One of our goals is that we try to improve as a team every day and improve every day as individuals," said Szymanski, whose team has already compiled three winning streaks of five games or longer. "We feel we have been doing that. We´ve been trying to find the right match-ups for the teams we have to play (in the playoffs). We won´t know that until we play everybody, and we haven´t played Frederick yet."

The Skipjacks´ success will depend in part on a core group of sophomores – first baseman Will Delawter, third baseman Justin Armiger, outfielder Robbie Miller, and shortstop Mike Kelch – who also starred on last year´s NJCAA Division II World Series participant.

Delawter (.384 average, six homers, 33 RBI), Armiger (.373, two homers, 19 RBI), Miller ( .313, one homer, 32 RBI, 26 walks) and Kelch (.339, one homer, 20 RBI) have been huge offensive contributors.

"Will, Robbie and Justin have been very consistent. They don´t have many bad days and when they do, they´re able to bounce back quickly," said Szymanski. "Robbie´s been driving in runs and getting on base for us all season. And Mike Kelch has hit for us and been outstanding on defense."

Armiger (3-0 pitching record, 1.17 earned-run average) and Delawter (2-2, 2.29 ERA) are also two of the Skipjacks´ most experienced pitchers. "We knew that Will was an excellent pitcher in high school," said Szymanski. "With the depth we had last year with Bryan Brainer and Matt Fitzgerald and a couple of the other guys stepping up, we really didn´t need Will to pitch as much last year as we do this year.

"Will has done a great job pitching," added Szymanski. "He´s been throwing a lot of strikes. That´s the key for Will – to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters so that the defense stays on its toes."

Armiger, meanwhile, "has done well in his only three outings," said Szymanski. "He´s been very effective and we´re looking forward to pitching him down the stretch also."

Another sophomore – first baseman/designated hitter Anthony Archie – dramatically improved between seasons. Archie is hitting .416 with five homers while leading the team in RBI (43), extra-base hits (20),and runs scored (44), and running second to Delawter with five home runs.

"Archie has had a great year," said Szymanski. "We´re hoping that he can continue it. He´s a great team player and really hits the ball hard."

The Skipjacks have also relied on a core of freshmen, led by center fielder Brad Brainer from Kent Island High School. While Brainer´s older brother, Bryan, was a pitching star the last two years with Chesapeake before moving on to Salisbury University, the younger brother is known for his hitting. He leads the team in batting average (.418) and hits (51), and is second to Archie in runs scored (43).

"Brainer gets it all started," said Szymanski. "He´s the leadoff guy who gets us rolling."

Other freshmen who have played key roles offensively include Justin Sousa (.360, two homers, 20 RBI), Steve Switala (.283, homer, 16 RBI), Chris Cirillo (10 RBI in just 30 at bats), and Barry Fetter (.286, seven RBI). Justin Felgenhouer (4-0, 1.19 ERA) and Chris Conner (4-1, 3.50 ERA) – who both went to North Caroline High School – and fellow freshmen Joe Garrity of Kent Island High (3-1, 4.85 ERA) and Sousa (1-1, 3.04 ERA) have combined for a 12-3 record. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Joey Sable is 2-0.

"We´re young, pitching-wise, but we´re getting the experience we need during the regular season," said Szymanski.

"Justin Felgenhouer has done a great job when called upon," continued Szymanski. "We called his number early, and now we´re calling it again. We´re looking for big things from him coming down the stretch.

"Sousa´s worked his way into that spot and he´s done an excellent job," added the Skipjacks´ seventh-year head coach. "And Chris Conner has given us good outing after good outing. He came in against CSM (College of Southern Maryland last Thursday) and closed the door for us."

And none of this pitching includes possible contributions from Nick Lemmer. Lemmer (1-3, 7.41 ERA) has had an erratic sophomore year to this point, but was the MVP of the Northeast District as a freshman.

"He was one of the keys to last year´s championship," noted Szymanski. "At times he´s been effective; sometimes he hasn´t. We know Nick´s possibilities."

Szymanski said the Skipjacks´ coaching staff has been strengthened by the combination of an old hand – fourth-year assistant Tony Riggi – and some fresh blood – first-year assistant Ryan Albright, who pitched for last year´s team.

"I depend a lot on Ryan," said Szymanski. "I don´t think I can describe how much help and assistance he´s given to the players, myself, the college and the team. I can´t tell you how grateful I am that he´s part of the program.

"Tony is very dependable, hard-working and experienced," added Szymanski. "I´m grateful for the staff I have. With the combination of these coaches and these players, I feel very confident that we´ll be competitive heading toward the stretch run."

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